Product Manager vs Project Manager: Assessing Your Team Needs

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Rafael Timbó
Rafael Timbó
Chief Technology Officer

Table of Contents

Distinguishing between product manager vs. project manager roles is crucial when making strategic hiring decisions in the tech industry. Here’s a breakdown of the core responsibilities of these two critical positions in a tech team.
Published on
May 29, 2024
Updated on
May 29, 2024

While product and project management are separate and vital team functions, some similarities lead to overlapping responsibilities and development workflow issues. It’s not unusual for those new to the tech space — and even a few technology veterans — to conflate and misunderstand the core responsibilities of these two professions.

Both product management and project management are critical for successful product development and help tech businesses of all shapes and sizes thrive in an increasingly competitive market. However, when team members dive deeper into what they do and how, they find that both experts focus on distinct aspects and stages of the process.

Engineering team leaders and HR managers must understand the key differences and similarities between product and project managers to make strategic decisions about their tech hiring needs.

Product Management vs. Project Management

While product management vs. project management roles may not fulfill identical needs within a tech team, they do not inherently compete with each other. Instead, these specialists frequently work hand in hand to drive innovation and guarantee effective execution.

Some similarities between product vs. project managers undoubtedly exist. Combining product and project managers' strengths yields the best results in practical and fast-paced development settings.

Product managers define the product vision, roadmap, and strategy to ensure that products meet market needs and business objectives. Project managers, on the other hand, translate that vision into tangible deliverables by implementing defined processes, resource planning, and ensuring projects stay on track. In development, a long-term vision, which provides forecasting and future-proofing capability, is needed alongside short-term execution, which ensures that the current product is delivered efficiently.

What Does a Product Manager Do?

A product manager is the champion of a product, overseeing its entire product lifecycle, from conception to market launch and beyond. They’re responsible for the “what” and the “why” behind a successful product. In other words, these experts are the visionaries behind the development, evolution, and success of cutting-edge tech solutions.

Product managers often juggle various responsibilities, from competitive analysis and user experience to product pricing and positioning to communication with stakeholders. They also spearhead the development of product documentation and specifications, conduct user testing, and work closely with engineering teams and the product owner to guarantee technical feasibility and customer satisfaction.

Some other known product manager duties include the following:

  1. Strategic planning: Product managers define the long-term vision and goals for the final solution while striving to keep the product strategy aligned with the company’s objectives and market demands.
  2. Market research: They continuously gather valuable insights into customer needs and market trends to optimize product-related decisions.
  3. Product roadmap development: They meticulously outline relevant features and enhancements based on business value and customer impact.
  4. Cross-functional team collaboration: Besides the product team, product managers collaborate with engineering, marketing, sales, and customer support to achieve a well-rounded software development plan.
  5. Performance monitoring: Product managers analyze product metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess performance, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

Project management professionals (PMPs) are the execution engine that brings the product vision to life. These team members plan, organize, and lead the development process. Their primary focus is to deliver projects on time, within an established development cost range, and according to specified quality standards. Additionally, project managers must address backlogs in a timely manner and eliminate technical debt as needed.

In short, project managers prioritize the “who,” “when,” and “how” when navigating the project timeline. They divide the product manager’s work into actions, such as conducting project reviews and retrospectives, reporting project status and progress, and resolving conflicts between stakeholders and collaborators.

Some other tasks that depend on the project manager and project team include:

  1. Risk management: Project managers identify potential issues and develop strategies to mitigate or manage their impact throughout the project lifecycle.
  2. Quality assurance: They conduct regular quality checks using a suite of QA testing tools to ensure project deliverables meet established quality standards and requirements.
  3. Change management: Project managers oversee the adaptation and scalability of project scope, requirements, or objectives.
  4. Team development: They provide feedback, coaching, and training opportunities to enhance team members’ skills and performance.
  5. Closure and evaluation: They lead the project closure process, which includes finalizing deliverables, obtaining acceptance from stakeholders, and conducting a post-project evaluation to identify areas for improvement.

Differences Between a Project Manager vs. Product Manager

In a well-optimized workflow, product manager and project manager roles are not competing but complementary—both are uniquely essential to successful product development and business growth.

Product managers make strategic decisions based on market trends, user feedback, and business goals. Conversely, project managers base their professional choices on project plans, deadlines, and resource allocation. The former focuses on the product's long-term vision and strategic direction, considering the entire product lifecycle, while the latter is more interested in the short-term execution of specific projects within the product development cycle.

Project managers' responsibilities include detecting and addressing project-specific risks, such as resource constraints or technical challenges. Tools like a software deployment checklist aid project managers and help keep project teams on track outside Scrum meetings. Typically, product managers are more concerned with product-level risks, such as market shifts or technology disruptions.

Other key differences when comparing project vs. product managers include the following:

Skill Set

Product managers possess a unique blend of analytical thinking and strategic vision. They leverage data to understand customer needs and market trends, then translate this knowledge into a compelling product vision and roadmap aligned with long-term business goals. Moreover, they excel in communication, effectively collaborating with diverse stakeholders.

Project managers require strong organizational and problem-solving skills. They plan, prioritize, and delegate tasks efficiently to keep projects on track and address any challenges that may arise. They also have extensive expertise in project management methodologies and use this knowledge to structure plans, manage resources, and mitigate potential risks.

Stakeholders Management

Product managers often partner with a wide range of stakeholders across the organization, including engineers, designers, marketing teams, and executives. They also forge robust connections with customers, actively seeking their feedback to drive continuous product improvement.

Project managers primarily interact with team members directly involved in the project execution, including engineers and software developers. They depend on product manager reports for client insights.

Metrics and Measurement

Product managers track and analyze product success metrics such as user engagement, customer satisfaction, and market share. With this information, they identify areas for improvement, track product evolution, and demonstrate the product's value proposition.

Project managers monitor and measure project success metrics such as timeliness, budget adherence, and completion of deliverables. Monitoring this data helps them pinpoint deviations and take corrective actions promptly.

Tools and Methodologies

Product managers rely on research tools for customer insights. They also benefit from product analytics platforms for user behavior, market research tools for industry trends, and roadmapping tools for visualizing the product's future direction.

Project managers use specialized project management software such as Jira for project planning, task tracking, and resource allocation. They also employ task management tools for collaboration and communication platforms to stay connected with their team and other stakeholders.

Program Management

Product managers operate in a dynamic environment, requiring adaptability to market shifts, customer feedback, and emerging technologies. They continuously iterate and evolve the product to ensure it remains relevant and competitive.

Project managers work within a defined scope, prioritizing stability and adherence to the initial project plan to deliver on time and within budget. Although they may need to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, their primary objective is delivering the project within defined guidelines.

Ownership and Accountability

Product managers ultimately own the product's overall success and performance. They must be able to translate the product vision into reality and deliver a satisfactory product, at the very least.

Project managers are liable for successfully executing specific projects within their scope. While their work contributes significantly to the overall product success, their accountability is limited to the specific project they manage.

Career Path

Product managers with exceptional leadership and strategic skills may advance to product leadership positions or pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. Project managers typically transition to program management or senior project management roles, overseeing larger, more complex projects.

Where Project Managers and Product Managers Overlap

Despite their distinct roles, project and product managers share several critical similarities. Perhaps the most important is that they both contribute to the success of the same product. While their approaches may differ, both roles ultimately strive to deliver innovative solutions that address market demands and foster customer loyalty.

Other areas in which the world of project vs. product managers often intersect are:

  • Collaboration: Both roles involve working closely together and with diverse stakeholders. Effective collaboration is essential to keep things running smoothly within the team and across departments.
  • Communication: Both project and product management success depends on clear and concise communication skills. The ability to effectively convey instructions and updates keeps everyone involved in the product development process on the same page and prevents costly mistakes down the line.
  • Problem-solving: Both roles may encounter challenges and issues throughout the development lifecycle. That’s why product and project management professionals require strong problem-solving skills to identify solutions and navigate roadblocks.
  • Customer focus: Despite having different timeframes, product and project managers prioritize meeting customer needs and expectations. They both aim to deliver solutions that satisfy users.
  • ​​Decision-making: Both specialists utilize data and metrics to plan their next move and find areas of opportunity. This guarantees that all decisions are grounded in data-driven evidence and are most likely to succeed.
  • Product understanding: Project and product managers must comprehensively understand the product vision, technical feasibility, and the various stages involved in bringing it to life. This enables them to work together within the right parameters and expectations.
  • User advocacy: Both product and project managers follow a user-centric approach at the end of the day. Product managers provide user insights, while project managers use this information to ensure that design decisions align with what the client wants.

The workflows of these professionals also cross paths at various points. As previously stated, product managers rely on project managers to translate their vision into actionable plans and ensure projects meet deadlines and quality standards. Likewise, project managers need product managers to provide clear requirements, prioritize features, and adapt project plans based on evolving market demands or customer feedback.

Which Manager Is Right for Your Team?

Choosing the right manager for your team depends on your specific needs, current stage of development, and future digital acceleration efforts in your strategic plan. For example, if you’re defining a new product vision and exploring market opportunities, a strong product manager with a deep understanding of customer needs and market trends is your best bet. On the other hand, when executing specific projects within a well-defined product roadmap, a project manager with expertise in project planning, resource management, and communication may be a better option.

As your product evolves and requires ongoing updates and maintenance, you may need to invest in hiring both product and project managers. In this case, a product manager maintains the overall vision and strategy, and a project manager manages specific development sprints or feature releases.

The following is a summary of each position and highlights the key differences in each role:

Product Manager:

  • Focus on long-term vision, strategy, and user experience
  • Analytical, strategic thinking, communication, customer, and market understanding skills
  • User engagement, customer satisfaction, and market share analysis
  • Overall product success and performance ownership

Project Manager:

  • Focus on short-term execution, project delivery, and resource management
  • Organizational, problem-solving, communication, and project management expertise abilities
  • Monitors timeliness, budget adherence, and project completion times
  • Accountable for the successful execution of specific projects within their scope

Hire Product and Project Managers With Revelo

Choosing between product manager vs. project manager hires doesn’t need to be challenging. Like other positions, knowing the roles and responsibilities for each role empowers you to make the right choice.

If you’re looking for carefully vetted, time-zone-aligned developers, Revelo assists you in narrowing down the candidate pool and connecting you with your perfect match. Our talent pool possesses the necessary technical skills, soft skills, and English proficiency to help your business thrive. Additionally, Revelo assists in ongoing administrative tasks for the life cycle of your hire, including benefits administration, local compliance, taxes, and payroll.

Hire management talent with Revelo and build a cost-effective and optimized development workflow.

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